Tokyobling's Blog

Shimokitazawa Awaodori – Shinoburen

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on August 12, 2013

This weekend we saw some of the highest temperatures we have seen in Tokyo for many years. At least I can’t remember any weekend that has been hotter than this. Other parts of Japan were hotter! Walking outside in these temperatures is like walking into a wall of heat. The air inside your clothes is cooler than the air outside so you can actually feel the heat as you walk around. And then when the heat reaches your skin the sweat starts running…! All in all, not the best conditions for a two hour dance parade! Still, the annual and fantastic Awaodori festival in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa town took place as usual, with several teams braving the heat to perform the traditional dance and music from the southern Tokushima prefecture. The heat had drained the energy levels of several participants but still they did fantastically, especially the famous Shinoburen (忍連), whom I have blogged about before here and here. These guys are really dedicated. If you visit the huge Awaodori festival in Koenji at the end of this month you might be lucky enough to see them perform!

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Amezaiku – Kurayami Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places, Shops, Stuff by tokyobling on May 18, 2013

Not the first post on the fantastic Kurayami festival in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City, and not the first post on the very skilled traveling candy artisans, but I couldn’t pass up on this man! He is one of the amezaiku (飴細工), or sugar craftsmen, who puts up their booths in festivals all over Japan. With a pair of scissors and some simple wooden tools they create animals and creatures out of colored soft sugar. This guy was certainly one of the better I have seen and was popular with both adults and little children. If you are in Tokyo and want to see some really good amezaiku at work there’s a shop near Sendagi station, at the Dangozaka. Their creations are too beautiful to consider eating though!

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Kurayami Matsuri – Michikiyomegi

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 16, 2013

Often when visiting festivals the layman (like me) will be thoroughly baffled by almost all the activities taking place. The larger festivals have many rituals and ceremonies, different people have different roles to play, sacred objects are paraded, water is strewn, banners are raised, chants are begun and abruptly ended. Seemingly important parades end in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere and out of order chaos suddenly erupts as people are suddenly filled with some urgent purpose to stride somewhere else in shining regalia, only to seemingly change their mind and go for a soba break with the lads from the office. In short, most of everything that takes place at a festival is bewildering confusion. It doesn’t usually help to ask other bystanders. Many times have I had to explain (even with my basic understanding) what is going on to little old Japanese ladies that have lived next to the shrine all their lives. Sometimes I am even correct! I don’t even ask the people involved anymore – most low level participants have a sketchy idea of themselves of what is going on, and the people who do know are far to busy to have time to talk to a mere tourist. But every now and then you just stand in a street corner looking lost and some old man will stumble out with a half empty bottle of sake and explain, in mind numbingly detail just what is going on, and suddenly all the pieces fall together and the missing link between half a dozen ceremonies and costumes and chants are processions appears right in front of you.

Something similar happened to me on the second day of the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City, when I watched the Michikiyomegi procession get ready and finally march out of the grand Okunitama Shrine (大國魂神社), chanting while beating the ground rhythmically with large bamboo sticks. But I’ll save that story for another blog post, in the mean time I’ll let you enjoy this bewildering moment in peace. If you do happen to be able to connect all the dots here, don’t write too many spoilers in the comments please!

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The Drums of Kurayami Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 11, 2013

One of the most spectacular aspects of the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City is the huge drum. There are six of these massive beasts that can carry four men and are drawn by up to two dozen others. Instead of normal drumsticks they use two thick and stubby baseball bats, one in each hand. There is a certain rhythm, three quick strokes, followed by a slow draw during which the overseer standing on top of the drum lowers his paper lantern while chanting a single drawn out word. Two drummer per drum, and six to a festival, spread out over a square kilometer, creates a sound almost like a scene from a war movie. It’s an almost hypnotic thing to see! In the old days only the strongest men were allowed but these days women and kids take part in the drumming as well and I caught one young man eagerly awaiting his turn at the drum. The most enthusiastic drummers who manage to combine massive strength with a decorum fitting the occasion usually draws a lot of applause and the appreciative nods from the more experienced old men in the crowd. One day I wouldn’t mind having a go at them.

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